Ex-Senate majority leader at center of bribery scandal sentenced to federal prison
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former state Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison Tuesday in connection with a bribery scandal that rocked the state Legislature.
He also got three years supervised release and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.
“This was not just any elected official. This was the majority leader of the Hawaii State Senate,” said Ken Sorenson, chief of the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Hawaii’s Criminal Division.
“This is an incredibly powerful man with a lot of position to sell, to market, to peddle to bribery. So having an individual like him on the on the wrong end of all these bribes is incredibly damaging.”
Prosecutors sought a sentence of 42 months for English, while his lawyers asked for 30 months.
In issuing her sentence, Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway commented on how casually and frequently English accepted the bribes.
She also said English didn’t need the money since he has his own consulting business and owns land on Maui that generates rental income.
“Mr. English has considerable financial resources of his own … He was not under financial duress. This was a matter of greed,” Mollway said.
English pleaded guilty in February to one count of honest services wire fraud, a felony.
Former state Rep. Ty Cullen also pleaded guilty to the federal charge, and will be sentenced in October.
English and Cullen have admitted that they received bribes from Hawaii businessman Milton Choy to introduce and then kill measures establishing government-funded cesspool replacement programs.
Those programs would have benefited Choy’s industrial cleaning company.
English retired last year, citing symptoms of “long COVID.”
But court records showed he was already under federal investigation by that point.
English did not talk to reporters after the hearing but in court he apologized for his actions. “I want to express remorse and sorrow … I continue to ask why I did this,” said English.
English will begin serving his prison term on Aug. 6.
The legislative bribery scandal has placed a dark cloud over the past session and has shaken the public’s confidence in some lawmakers.
“The issue of public corruption is at the top of a lot of people’s minds,” said Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science professor.
“This is the sort of thing that really undermines our democracy. It’s the most serious form of corruption.”
But Moore said he doesn’t think the scandal will result in widespread turnover in next month’s primary election.
“There are relatively few competitive races here in the Legislature. ... Most incumbents will get reelected,” he said.
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